A few years ago we were in discussion with the Central East Local Health Integration Network about the idea of having a number of consultative committees made up of unionized health professionals in each of the sub-regions.
We sent out an invitation to our colleagues in the other unions to be part of this and got little response. Neither did our own members show much enthusiasm to get on board.
Part of this is likely ambivalence towards the LHINs. Part of it is also concern that Ontario continues to have very weak whistleblower protection. Part of it is a concern by these front line workers that they would feel manipulated by the process.
For most LHINs we remain strangers. Our employers get invited to present at the LHIN board meetings. We don’t. Our employers have ongoing working relationships with the LHINs. Ours is hit and miss, depending on the LHIN and how willing locals are to spend time at LHIN board meetings that can sometimes be opaque.
That’s too bad.
The front line professional and support staff have a lot to contribute but aren’t always in sync with the viewpoint of their employers. The relationships they have back in the workplace could be adversely affected by saying the wrong thing.
We do from time to time make submissions to the LHINs. The reception has been fair, but a lot of consideration goes not only into making our case, but also in how to protect our membership from reprisal while doing so. Sometimes the knowledge they hold is not widely disseminated and all paths can lead back to an individual even with the union serving as the shield. Sometimes we have to exclude critical information from a submission for that reason.
For some employers this is not a major issue. They encourage open dialogue and consider it part of the push and pull of being in the public sector. Often this results in a much better relationship between unionized staff and management.
Others are far less understanding and see any contrary viewpoint as a challenge to their authority. It’s usually at these workplaces where participatory continuous improvement programs like LEAN end up falling apart in an undercurrent of cynicism.
LHINs do have professional advisory committees – though many front-line workers would see the individuals on these bodies as distant from their day-to-day concerns. They certainly aren’t local.
We also wonder, as funding increasingly follows the patient, whether speaking openly will become even more of a challenge as hospitals start looking at marketing themselves to attract patients and funding.
As the Standing Committee on Social Policy engages this winter in its review of the LHINs, perhaps whistleblower protection should be given some consideration. Surely something is missing when the workers who have face-to-face interaction with patients feel they cannot safely engage in community health care planning.
Without labour participation, the sub-regional labour committees in the Central East LHIN never happened. That’s not only the LHIN’s loss, but ours too.